A fun addition to any trek or sightseeing tour across the Himalaya is a morning or afternoon of retail therapy. There are so many beautiful products available across Nepal, Bhutan and Ladakh, from handmade paper to carved masks to woven bags. But, there is also a lot of poor quality ‘tourist tat’. If you have limited time for shopping in the region and want to go directly to the best places, follow our handy guide to shopping for handicrafts in Nepal, Bhutan and Ladakh.
When staying in Kathmandu, look beyond the Thamel area for the best quality handicrafts.
Sana Hastakala is a fair trade organisation that aims to foster a resurgence in traditional crafts. Some of the best items are hand-painted or printed textiles, such as cushion covers and bed-spreads. It’s on Kupondole Road in Patan.
Mahaguthi sells handicrafts produced by Nepali artisans working across the country. There are three fun floors to browse, selling similar items to Sana Hastakala (above). There are two branches in different parts of town: one on Kupondole Road, Patan, and the other on Lazimpat Road, north of Thamel.
Timro Conceptstore brings together the finest Nepali design, from statement jewellery to sturdy leather bags, trendy contemporary mala bead necklaces to notebooks covered in hand-block printed paper. They also serve delicious homemade cakes and drinks. It’s in Jhamsikhel, opposite the army base and just down from the Big Mart supermarket.
Of Silk and Salt
Just around the corner from the Patan Durbar Square, Of Silk and Salt sells handmade clothes, home furnishings and accessories inspired by Nepal and its neighbours. There’s a good Asian fusion restaurant attached.
Baber Mahal Revisited
The souvenir shops within this renovated Rana-era palace are of very good quality, if on the pricey side. A great plan is to stop here for lunch at Chez Caroline, a popular French restaurant, and then spend some time browsing the shops.
The Women’s Skill Development Project
This shop has Pokhara and Kathmandu (Thamel) branches, although it originates in Pokhara. They specialise in striped, hand-woven bags, and also sell some smaller items like pencil cases and toys.
Many of the items available in Ladakh’s markets are actually Nepali or Kashmiri (that is, from other parts of Jammu & Kashmir state). For real Ladakhi handicrafts, check out the following options.
Utpala Arts and Natural Dye Centre
This shop is run by Ladakhi women and there’s no hard sell here. It sells shawls as well as a small collection of tie-dyed and hand-painted cushion covers and bags.
Ladakh Rural Women’s Enterprise
This is a very small shop under the stairway, to the right of the State Bank of India, in the same row of shops in the Main Bazaar as the Ladakh Book Shop. It sells mainly woollen and felt products, including lots of felt animals. It would be a great place to pick up gifts for children.
Nomadic Woollen Mills
This in a bright upstairs showroom in the Main Bazaar. They sell very fine pashmina scarves and shawls in elegant, muted colours.
This boutique is in the same building as Hotel Tsaskan, on Fort Road. It sells expensive but high-quality Tibetan, Ladakhi and Indian-inspired clothing, mainly in wool, felt and silk. Jigmat Couture is especially good to browse for inspiration if you’re handy with a sewing machine and wanting to pick up some fabric at the market to take home with you.
Ladakh Traditional Handicraft Products
This is in the LedEg compound, opposite Karzoo Pond, and is a good place to pick up scarves and tie-dyed woollen products.
Many souvenirs in Bhutan are actually made in Nepal, and are available in Nepal at cheaper prices. So, it makes sense to do most of your souvenir shopping in Nepal rather than Bhutan. But, there are definitely a few good places to pick up real Bhutanese souvenirs.
This is a general clothing store specialising in Bhutanese dress. This is not a tourist shop and sells reasonably priced kiras for women.
You can check out the weavers working at this place, which specialises in weaving and embroidery.
Lungta, opposite the Post Office, has a wonderful selection of arts and crafts.
The weaving stall at the Takin Preserve
The small stall at the gate of the Takin Preserve sells beautiful hand woven scarfs which are much cheaper than in Thimpu shops.
The shop at the Choki Traditional Art School
This place sells good quality-fixed price art.
Sephub Gyeltsen Tsongkhang
This is a great place to buy Bhutanese cloth and traditional-style clothes. Particularly good items that you might wear to a special occasion back home are kira, women’s traditional dress, and short-waisted women’s jackets.
National Handicraft Emporium
This government-run emporium sells a wide variety of handicrafts, from textiles to festival masks, and is a handy place to stop because you can find (almost) everything under one roof.